It’s not easy to complete a +Acumen course. You have to recruit a team of colleagues or friends, find time to consistently work on assignments, and wrestle with concepts like business modeling. Unlike some online courses that just require watching videos, +Acumen courses ask you to go out and talk to real customers, delve into serious introspection, or prototype a new model of service delivery for the poor. Yet, again and again, we are awed by the thousands of self-motivated people who log into a +Acumen course and accomplish meaningful work. They’ve used these courses as a springboard to drive innovation within their organization, start their own social enterprise, or galvanize others to pay more attention to the poor. Some of these learners are just getting started on their social entrepreneurship journey with +Acumen, while others have taken nearly all of our courses and now use their expertise to train others. Here are five +Acumen students (among many) who inspired us in 2015.
Erik Jensen, an engineering graduate student at the University of Notre Dame, performs research for an organization called Engineering2Empower with a focus on sustainable housing in Haiti. After taking the +Acumen course on Human-Centered Design, he elected to volunteer in subsequent rounds of the course as a catalyst, helping to coach other participants. In 2015, he traveled to Haiti to run an innovation incubator for local entrepreneurs. Along with a team of other engineers, he developed a workshop on human-centered design using the downloadable Design Kit field guide and materials from the +Acumen course to guide the incubator for Haitian participants. They ended up prototyping solutions for improving construction site quality control and safety for local workers and preparing local families to take on home loans. This human-centered or user-centered approach complemented Engineer2Empower’s ongoing development work and home reconstruction projects in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
We’re inspired not only by what Erik has accomplished in the +Acumen courses, but also by how he demonstrates the ripple effects of our global community. He is continuing to coach others in the online course and is catalyzing the spread of human-centered design across Haiti.
Rocio Perez Ochoa
Rocio is a mother of two living in London. After a successful career working in hedge funds and then as a policy adviser for the UK government, she embarked on a new chapter as a social entrepreneur after reading “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. She spent the last year launching Bidhaa Sasa, a social enterprise that enables families in Kenya to buy affordable modern goods like cookstoves and solar lanterns. For the past several months, she has been engaged in a rigorous customer discovery and validation process to learn about the best ways to get these products to customers and help them finance purchases. Seeking resources to support her work, she enrolled in five +Acumen courses including Lean Startup Principles for Social Impact, Lean Data, Financial Modeling, Market Segmentation, and Scaling Smart. An active participant in the course forums, she went on to submit her work to the Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco, where she was a featured speaker and interviewed by Silicon Valley expert Steve Blank. We’re inspired by Rocio’s careful adherence to Lean methods as she tests and validates hypotheses about her Kenyan customers, and by the humility she brings to this work. “Obviously there is still so much to figure out,” she told us.
“You have to be like bamboo—strong but flexible because
you don’t have all the answers.”
When we first talked to Usman in late 2014, we were excited to learn that this Pakistani university student had taken six +Acumen courses. Backed by the insights he gained in them, he took his skills and his passion for social entrepreneurship all the way to the finals of Unilever’s 2014 Talent Hunt. Usman’s category-winning proposition focused on how best to market a water purification solution to low-income communities in Pakistan where water contamination is a major public health challenge.
Since then, Usman graduated with a degree in computer science and, rather than take a more lucrative job at a technology engineering firm, he decided to move all the way to Freetown, Sierra Leone where he is working as a Programmer and R&D Lead at iDT Labs. In this capacity, he is helping to launch Kol Dokta a mobile-based healthcare initiative that aims to connect patients, medical care practitioners and pharmacies across the country. Along with his team, Usman is implementing human-centered design approaches and rigorously assessing and measuring social impact using some of the methodologies he used in +Acumen courses. Most recently, Usman completed the Networking 101 course we launched with the Center for Creative Leadership and the Prototyping course we launched with IDEO.org. We’re inspired to see how young leaders like Usman are combining their technical skills with human-centered approaches to build new solutions for communities in their backyard and halfway around the world.
Laila is a 27 year old management consultant in Fez, Morocco who discovered the +Acumen course Social Entrepreneurship 101 this summer. “Until I took this course, I believed that to be an entrepreneur you had to be someone who already had money and was rich. I didn’t know we could find investors from other places,” Laila said, “I didn’t know people like me could become entrepreneurs, but now from these +Acumen courses I am inspired to learn everything to get started, and I actually want to start a social enterprise.” Also during her first +Acumen course, she found and enrolled in Eirene 4 Impact Camp, an early stage incubator where she joined a team working on an education project. After Social Entrepreneurship 101, Laila took Lean Startup Principles, Design Kit, Business Models, Financial Modeling and Scaling Smart, mostly with a friend from the United States that she met via the online course platform. “The courses were complementary so I took many of them,” she said. We can’t wait to see what new social innovations Laila launches in 2016.
“Your whole life you think you have to do something and now
this is showing me how to do it.”
Ketaki is on the frontlines of supporting social entrepreneurs in rural Appalachia. Just this July, she joined the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development as their Social Enterprise Manager in Berea, Kentucky. Although new to this role, Ketaki has spent her career supporting low-income populations around the world, working on global health projects in the Washington, D.C. area before moving to a part of the country that even many Americans living in large urban centers know little about. Ketaki has spent the past few months immersing herself in the knowledge of local experts and trying to get up to speed with new concepts like business modeling and financing for social enterprises. “The +Acumen course on social enterprise business models had been on our team’s radar,” she said, “My supervisor had taken a course on Financial Modeling from +Acumen and so suggested I check out this new course. It was perfect because I had heard about the business model canvas before, but going through all the structured modules to complete the canvas on my own was super helpful.”
She plans to apply what she’s learned from the +Acumen curriculum to her work supporting social enterprises in rural American communities. “We’ve looked at programs in places like Boston and San Francisco, but it’s really different from being in central Appalachia,” she notes, “There is a lot of specific learning that needs to be done because a lot of the resources have been developed with entrepreneurs in larger urban centers in mind. In this region there are a lot of markets that are broken in key foundational ways. To build a community of social enterprises here, it will take a different kind of support. They won’t just necessarily evolve. We might actually have to cultivate new social enterprises.” Ketaki reminded us that there are areas of our own country where poverty persists and new approaches are needed. In fact, of the 100 poorest counties in the country, 29% are in eastern Kentucky. We’re inspired by people like Ketaki who are willing to role-up their sleeves, learn new concepts, and start building new models to help people whose voices all too often remain unheard.
Do you have a story of how a +Acumen course changed your trajectory? Share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.